• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2022: Ruth Negga, “Passing”

This moment, and this film, may have been inevitable for Ruth Negga. “I wanted to be an actor since I saw David Bowie walking down a set of stairs in (the 80s fantasy film) Labyrinth,” she says“That and Trainspotting and the French movie La Haine, which talked about racial violence. I’m drawn to fiction hinged on conflicts and alienation!” For these reasons, Passing writer, director, and producer Rebecca Hall couldn’t have asked for a better actress to bring her film’s Clare Bellew to life.
Born in Ethiopia to an Irish mother and Ethiopian father, Negga was raised in Limerick, Ireland (while also spending time in England). When she was only 7, her father was killed in a car accident. Negga used the tragedy as a driving force in pursuing her dream and studied at the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College Dublin.
She nabbed her first recurring TV role on the Irish TV series Love Is the Drug in 2004. After seeing Negga act, director Neil JordanBreakfast on PlutoCillian Murphy, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea. That year she also appeared in Isolation and Color Me Kubrick. In 2013, Negga landed her first high-profile movie role alongside Brad Pitt in World War Z.
With the world now watching her, Negga’s performance as Mildred Loving (one half of the couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that ended segregation laws) in 2017s Loving was her breakthrough role. She garnered accolades and nominations from the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards. She also won an IFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Film. And then Rebecca Hall came calling.
Passing is an adaptation of the Harlem renaissance novella of the same name by Nella Larsen. It tells the story of two Black women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, each of whom can “pass” as white but who live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York. Rebecca Hall managed to turn the 93-page book into a full-length movie, giving both her leads the room to explore their complicated relationships with the world, themselves, and each other.
“I think I was so struck by how witnessed I felt reading Passing, to be honest. I fell completely in love with both Irene and Clare because I firmly believe that they’re two sides of the same coin. I fell in love with Clare because I was jealous of her. I was jealous of her abandon and her joie de vivre, her refusal to be anything but herself. I think that’s extraordinary. Especially for a woman of color at that time,” Negga said speaking at this year’s New York Film Festival.
Both Negga’s accent and her understanding of Black American nuance are flawless. “A lot of people who grew up in Ireland and England…our gaze was very much towards America. Culturally speaking especially, we grow up with so many films and TV from America and literature. So, I think that sort of shorthand is really there in our consciousness really. And especially growing up and listening to the accent,” Negga recalls.
Negga is reportedly next set to executive produce and star in a limited drama series about Josephine Baker, in addition to making her Broadway debut as Lady Macbeth alongside Daniel Craig in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In 2020, she was ranked number 10 on The Irish Times list of Ireland’s greatest film actors. She now resides in Los Angeles.